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Ditching your antibiotic course? Think again

Feeling better does not indicate the infection has been treated, say Dubai doctors

Image Credit: Getty Images/Hemera
Antibiotics are medications that kill or slow down the growth of bacteria, and are prescribed for the treatment of infections caused by bacteria. Image for illustrative purpose only.
Gulf News

Dubai: Feeling better after a nasty virus may lead you to ditch the rest of your antibiotic prescription, unaware of the adverse effect you may be causing your body.

Antibiotics are medications that kill or slow down the growth of bacteria, and are prescribed for the treatment of infections caused by bacteria. They are often prescribed for pneumonia, whooping cough, urinary tract infections, and infected wounds.

While improvement symptoms are a positive indication the medicine prescribed is doing its job, it does not necessarily mean the infection is completely gone, said Dr Monalisa Panda, microbiologist at Thumbay Hospital.

“If an antibiotic course is stopped before it is completed, then the bacteria causing the infection may mutate to become resistant to that particular antibiotic,” explained Dr Panda.

A short and incomplete antibiotic course can “destroy the harmless protective bacteria that live in and on the body, allowing resistant bacteria to multiply and replace them,” she said.

If one has an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection, the individual may take longer to get well, may be more likely to have complications of the infection, and may be contagious.

“An individual with a resistant bacterial infection would need a higher generation of antibiotic, which may have more side-effects on the body,” to treat the same infection he once caught but did not treat properly, said Dr Panda.

However, while it’s important for patients to complete the course of antibiotics, it is equally required that doctors prescribe correct, and preferably short, courses.

Dr Panda referred to emerging evidence showing that shorter courses of antibiotics may be just as effective as longer courses for some infections.

“Shorter treatments have great advantages — they are more likely to be completed properly, have fewer side effects and also likely to be cheaper. They also reduce the exposure of bacteria to antibiotics, thereby reducing the speed by which the pathogen develops resistance,” she added.

Similarly, Dr Fabrizio Facchini, Consultant Pulmonologist at Valiant Clinic, described antibiotics as “doctors’ weapon to kill bacteria,” pointing out that antibiotics, which are complex chemicals introduced to the body, can cause allergic reactions and at specific doses, can even poison the body.

“Antibiotics have been prescribed to kill specific bacteria causing the symptoms, however, they can kill any bacteria they are active on — if they are able to reach the right concentration at any specific tissue or organ of the body,” he said.

This implies that antibiotics are not active against resistant bacteria and can kill good bacteria too.

“This increases the risk of further nasty infections. So overall, antibiotics carry severe risks that should be weighed against the attended benefits,” said Dr Facchini.

One of three things can happen to the body if you stop an antibiotic course before it is completed:

1. The infection might be completely fought, in this case the body might need more time to recover from the battle against the infection and restore immune system capacity (convalescence).

2. The infection might be still present, but it has been weakened and the immune system is now in a position to complete the battle and recover (convalescence).

3. The infection is still present and strong. The immune system might still be able to take control of the infection, but at the cost of longer illness status or risk of organ damages. Or the immune system might even be completely overwhelmed, putting a person at risk for life.

Dr Fabrizio Facchini, Consultant Pulmonologist at Valiant Clinic, says, “Physicians would not like for you to be in last scenario, therefore their recommendation would be to complete the course as prescribed, unless there is evidence of side effects or lack of benefits.”

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